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Mobile app from VUMC supports field research around the world

Feb. 10, 2022, 9:55 AM


by Paul Govern

In May 2015 a team at Vanderbilt University Medical Center launched the Research Electronic Data Capture (REDCap) Mobile Application. As of a year ago, the app had been enabled by 802 organizations around the world and had been used for 9,871 projects involving 19,636 end-users.

In Somkhele, South Africa, a research assistant from the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) uses VUMC’s REDCap Mobile Application to gather information in the field.
In Somkhele, South Africa, a research assistant from the Africa Health Research Institute (AHRI) uses VUMC’s REDCap Mobile Application to gather information in the field.

Fully integrated with VUMC’s well established REDCap data management platform, the mobile application was developed to give research teams, particularly those in regions of internet scarcity, the ability to deploy non-internet-connected smartphones and tablets for data collection in the field, for synching with parent REDCap database projects once internet connectivity could be established.

Last summer in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics AssociationPaul Harris, PhD, Stephany Duda, PhD, and colleagues published a report on the development and adoption of the REDCap Mobile Application. The paper includes vignettes illustrating the breadth of uses to which the mobile application has been put.

Among them:

  • Health authorities in Brazil prepared 74 tablets with the REDCap Mobile Application and trained field workers to use it in remote villages in the Amazon for surveillance of side effects of a new antiretroviral drug in pregnant women and their infants.
  • A research team in Fiji and Australia used the application to measure the incidence of scabies and impetigo.
  • A team in Ghana used the application to study worker capacity and competency to perform health care supply chain functions.
  • In Vietnam the mobile application has been used for epidemiological studies ranging from breast cancer and diabetes to health effects of peanut consumption.
  • A researcher at Meharry Medical College in Nashville used the app to study food insecurity and social determinants of health in Tennessee.

The parent application, REDCap, has more than 2 million users across 145 countries. REDCap was conceived and developed at VUMC by Harris and launched in 2004 as a self-service platform for research data planning, collection and sharing. In 2006, VUMC established the REDCap Consortium to provide free use of REDCap for academic, nonprofit or government organizations.

“The adoption and impact of our REDCap Mobile Application has been gratifying to witness,” said Harris, professor of Biomedical Informatics and director of the Office of Research Informatics at the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. “We initially designed this tool to support research teams in lower- and middle-income countries and rural areas where internet service is scarce or sporadic, as well as for sensitive facilities like schools and prisons. Our REDCap development team is amazing and very good at synthesizing feedback from end-users around the world to continuously evolve the platform in support of a very large and diverse research community.”

At VUMC alone, as of a year ago the mobile application had attracted more than 1,000 end-users and had been used in nearly 300 projects.

Running on both iOS and Android devices, the REDCap Mobile Application replicates the functionality of REDCap. The RedCAP Consortium currently supports versions of the mobile application in 10 languages. Updates are introduced on a monthly basis. Project data are stored and transmitted in encrypted form. Plugins allow use within the application of a device’s camera, microphone, compass, etc.

The report singles out collaborators in sub-Saharan Africa who contributed information on internet service in the region that proved essential to the mobile application’s development.

Joining Harris and Duda for the report on the mobile application were RedCAP Mobile Application development and support team members Giovanni Delacqua, Robert Taylor, Scott Pearson and Michelle Fernandez. The REDCap team is housed in the Vanderbilt Institute for Clinical and Translational Research. The REDCap platform and consortium are supported by the National Institutes of Health (UL1 TR002243).

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